Chicago, Illinois-May, 1965
“THEY DON’T HAVE ANY cars up there, none.” Mother spoke as if it were the neatest thing ever. “Only horses and bicycles for transport.”
“Horses?” Elvera gave her a look. “I can imagine what the place smells like.”
Father had inherited a house on Mackinac Island, a few miles off the tip of the Michigan mitten. The island, once important to the fur trade, was now a popular vacation spot. Clever city fathers had frozen the place in time, which drew tourists charmed by its Victorian architecture and ambiance. Father had showed her a photo taken from the air: trees, water, a small cluster of buildings, and more trees. He also had a picture of the house. Taken from the road, with purple-tipped lilac bushes obscuring the view, the photo lacked detail, but the house was at least as big as their home in Highland Park. Still, it was on an island. According to E’s friends at school, people went to Mackinac for a day, maybe two, rode around in a horse-drawn carriage, bought fudge, and then left. No one stayed for the whole summer, but that’s what Father had decided the Tharp family would do.
E had excellent reasons for objecting. One, this island wasn’t in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, where the cool people went. Two, it was hundreds of miles to the north, in Lake Huron, which meant the water would never really get warm enough for swimming. Three, it was primitive, with none of the stores available on Chicago’s famous Loop. Four, Franklin Tharp’s family trips were notoriously boring. He drove at precisely fifty miles per hour, his voice droning all the way about the Battle of This or the First Man to Do That. He’d brag to everyone in the city about their “historic” summer home, but Elvera recognized that spending their summer vacation in a remote spot was simply another way for her parents to pinch pennies.
And who gave a care about history anyway?
Worst of all, Elvera wouldn’t have her brother along to relieve the boredom. Drake had been sent to some awful boarding school where they made him march in columns and say, “Yes, sir, thank you, sir,” when they let him eat, sleep, or breathe. Father had encouraged him to “do well” in his new adventure. “With the training you get at Spooler Academy, you’ll already be on your way up the ladder if you’re called to the military. You won’t get tossed into the ranks with Negroes and hicks from Dogpatch.” Drake had repeated Father’s words in an excellent imitation of the overly loud voice he used when giving his children advice. “‘Service in the military stands a man well later in life, when he prepares to run for public office.’”
Drake hadn’t even tried to explain to Father that he had no interest in a political career. He didn’t talk to Mother about it either, since she’d never disagree with a Franklin Tharp edict. If allowed to do as he chose, Drake would have finished high school in Chicago and then joined the Peace Corps. While E was sorry to see Drake leave home, she agreed with Father on one point. Serving in the Peace Corps was no way to get ahead in life.
Her brother’s absence meant E would travel alone in the back seat, without his whispered, humorous observations or his help changing the subject when Father started lecturing on the Death of Polite Society and the Perils of Immodest Young Women. Though a little too tied to honor and duty to suit E, Drake was funny, sweet, and not yet petrified, the way her parents were. Being with them for the summer, with no Drake and no friends her own age, was going to be horrible.
Elvera tried explaining to Father that modern child psychologists recommended teens be given input on important family decisions. That argument had been futile. Her father’s endless litany of tired phrases cut off any intelligent discussion she tried to have with him. She had to go to church because, “The family that prays together stays together.” She should be careful with boys because she had “a gift meant only for her husband.” (That one she didn’t fully understand, though stuff she heard at school gave her an idea.) Father kept repeating that going to Michigan might “expand her opportunities.” When she asked how, he said, “George Romney, the governor of Michigan, has a house not far from ours. His son Mitt is only a little older than you.”
Mother seemed shocked at that. “Aren’t they Mormons, Franklin?”
Father shrugged the problem away. “George could be our next President, or one of his sons someday.”
On the extremely unlikely chance that she’d meet some boy, make him fall for her, and marry into the Republican elite, Elvera would be exiled from her friends for three whole months. Father would work in the city and drive up on weekends, “When I can get away,” which would seldom happen. Work was always “busy” and Father’s promises evaporated like morning fog in the bright light of reality. E would be left with her mother for weeks on end, constantly reminded that she wasn’t quite thin enough, pleasant enough, or clever enough (not intelligent—smart girls scared men away) to capture a “good” husband. According to Mother, Elvera would never “fit in” and “do well,” because of her “outspokenness” and “disrespectful attitude.” Sometimes it got so bad she put her hands over her ears and screamed, “Shut up!” When that happened, Mother complained to Father, and she got long, stern lectures about obedience to the Fifth Commandment.
There were times when she wanted to scream at him to shut up too, but no one told Father that. Telling anyone to shut up was unforgivably rude, and E wasn’t allowed to point out that her parents said the same things over and over and over, even if she kept her voice and kept her terminology extremely polite. Father was the boss of the family, like Jesus was the head of the church, and Mother was his “helpmeet,” a term E didn’t really get. Still, her Bible, her priest, and her parents were certain they had it right. No matter how stupid his ideas were (meaning Father, not Jesus), they all had to go along.
“It’s cooler up there,” he said when she asked for the twelfth time why she couldn’t stay in Illinois. “You’ll get to really explore nature.”
But her friend Camilla had been to Mackinac Island, and she said it was stupid unless you were dying to know every single thing there is to know about Indians. When E had pronounced it MAK in ak, parroting Father’s pronunciation, Camilla corrected her. “It’s MAK in aw, both the island and the town. People up there laugh if you don’t say it right.” She claimed you could only get a decent radio station late at night because of the ionosphere. And, though there were lots of tourist shops that sold fudge and souvenirs, there wasn’t a movie theater for miles. That meant Elvera would be the only person in her circle who’d miss A Hard Day’s Night when it came out in July. A thousand-to-one chance to charm the governor’s son was not even close to being worth that.
The drive north was long, and Elvera dozed in the back seat of the 1960 American Motors Ambassador Father had snapped up “for a song” when an elderly neighbor died. She sat with her feet up, since the floor was stacked with clothes and linens that smelled of lavender from sprigs her mother had tucked into the folds. Without Drake she had the whole seat to herself, but it felt weird to be back there alone. She had no one to read funny signs to, like the “Short Funeral Home” and “Bull Available for Stud.” Drake would have snickered at her impression of the waitress with the gap-toothed grin who asked, “What’ll it be, Pop?” like Father was ninety-two years old. But Drake was off studying military history and, if his letters were to be believed, starving to death because the food at the Spooler Academy for Young Men was ninety percent inedible.
After the first hour, the scenery was all the same: fields, woods, and towns not big enough to have a Woolworth’s, much less something interesting. Elvera wished she were small enough to climb into the back window, like she had as a kid, and nap with the watery June sunlight warming her back. She was too long for that now, with arms and legs that didn’t always work together smoothly. Mother made pointed comments about the danger to the nice things in the house when one’s daughter was more like a Great Dane puppy than a decorous young lady.
When they stopped in a tiny town called Gaylord (another time she missed Drake’s knowing smile), a young attendant hurried outside to wait on them. “Fill her up,” Father ordered, “and you may check the oil.”
“Yes, sir.” The guy opened the tank with the key Father handed to him. Once he got it back, Father went inside to find the rest room. The attendant put the nozzle in the tank and then went to work cleaning the windshield. He was kind of cute, though he had a bad case of acne. Elvera noticed him peering at her, and when their eyes met, he smiled. Unsure what her response should be, she looked away.
“All set?” Father had come up behind the kid, who glanced at the pump. While the attendant had been eyeing Elvera, the dials had stopped spinning and the bell had sounded.
“Yes, sir.” Taking the nozzle out, he set it back in its place with a clunk. “That’ll be two-twenty.”
The kid gulped. “I’m sorry. I forgot to check.”
“You forgot.” Father’s voice turned frosty. “What are you here for, young man?”
“Isn’t your job to provide service to this station’s customers?”
“Um, yes, sir.”
“And did I not ask you to check the oil in my car?”
“Yes, and I’ll do that right now, sir.”
“But you had to be reminded to do your job.”
Father put up a hand. “I don’t need to hear excuses, son. Even a gas jockey can contribute to the world, but only if he knows his job and stays focused. Do you understand that?”
The kid’s acne seemed to have caught fire. He glanced at E, who turned her gaze to the traffic on the street. Hurrying to the front of the car, he opened the hood. Father followed and stood with his fists resting on his hips, his suit jacket pushed back so his suspenders showed. Though E could only see through the slit between the hood and the car, she could tell the guy’s hands fumbled nervously as he removed the oil cap, tested the level, and replaced it. Mother didn’t seem to have noticed the exchange. Either that or she pretended not to.
Handing two dollar bills and two dimes to the attendant, Father got into the car. “Ready for the last leg of our journey, girls?”
Mom said she was. Elvera said nothing. The attendant had turned his back to them as he cranked the dials back to zero with jerky movements, his spine lightning-rod straight.
When they reached Mackinaw City, Father turned in at a ferry dock where a sign said, “Fastest Boats to Mackinac Island.” Getting out, he spoke to a man in a uniform shirt at a small wooden kiosk. Money changed hands, and the man followed Father to the car, where he started unloading boxes and suitcases and stacking them onto a cart another man pushed forward for the purpose.
Suddenly E realized that for the next three months, she would be without motorized transport. She remained in the car, which seemed like the last vestige of civilization as she knew it.
“Come on, Elvera,” Father said impatiently. “The ferry leaves soon.”
“I’m going to hate Mackinac,” she muttered to her mother as she obeyed the command. “Camilla says it’s all grass and fudge shops.”
Mom put on her patient expression. “You’ll be fine once we get there, Ellie.”
“E,” she corrected. “I hate it when you call me Ellie.”
Pursing her lips, Mother avoided either nickname. “Elvera. You can help me plant a flower garden.”
“I hate flowers.”
“Saying you hate things is rude, dear.”
“All right then. I despise flowers.”
At a loss, Mother fell silent.
E had to admit the view was spectacular. The Straits of Mackinac lay on three sides: to her right, Lake Huron and the island almost eight miles away (according to Father). On the left was Lake Michigan, more familiar to her from its southern end, where lay home and the city she was already missing. Splitting them was the Mackinac Bridge, completed less than ten years earlier, so that cars could pass from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula to the Upper and back without ferries. These days the boats traveled to the island and back several times each day, and no cars were allowed.
When their belongings were loaded on the cart, the first man pulled while the second pushed it toward the open ramp of the ferry. Elvera followed her parents across a metal plank-way and onto the enclosed passenger deck. The lake sparkled in the sunlight, but the breeze that swept off it was cool. E shivered. Chicago had been warm for weeks now, but this far north they hadn’t heard it was summer.
“Do you want to ride up top?” Father asked, but she pointedly took a seat on a bench along the side. “Suit yourself. We’re going to enjoy the view.” Mother gave the bench a look of longing, but taking a scarf out of her coat pocket, she covered her lacquered hair and followed her husband up a narrow metal stairway to the top deck.
Elvera watched out the window as tanned crewmen hurried here and there, undoing ropes and wrapping them in neat coils. A strident horn tooted, causing her to jump, and a low vibration under her feet signaled engines shifting into gear. The boat went backward for a while, moving away from the dock like an overburdened turtle. Everything stopped for a moment, and then the sound changed to a higher pitch. A forward surge made E grab hold of the seat. They were off.
The noise was irritating, and the smell of diesel was nauseating. As the boat picked up speed, the cabin temperature dropped. Water splashed along the side, spattering the windows with teardrop shapes that flattened and ran backward along the glass. Looking at the gray expanse ahead, Elvera wondered what would happen if the boat sank. It was some relief to see a wooden box nearby that said, “Life Preservers Inside,” but the fact that the boat owners acknowledged the possibility of sinking wasn’t encouraging. She shivered at the thought of the chilly, choppy waters of the straits enveloping her.
“I have an extra sweater.” Elvera turned to see a girl about her age standing before her. Her long hair was dark brown, like E’s, but curlier and gathered into uninspired pigtails fastened with rubber bands. She was as thin as E and perhaps an inch taller. Her clothes were awful: a cheap cotton skirt and a button-up blouse in a floral print under a corduroy jacket. She held out a blue, cable-knit sweater, obviously home-made and apparently taken from a canvas bag slung over her shoulder.
“My mom’s always cold,” the girl said. “She makes me carry around a coat and a sweater.”
Torn between the chill in the air and her distaste for the garment, Elvera chose warmth. There wasn’t anyone she knew within hundreds of miles, so it didn’t matter if she looked like a dork. Taking the sweater, which felt heavy and scratchy, she pulled it on over her long-sleeved blouse, a favorite since it had a fashionable mandarin collar. “Thanks.”
“My name’s Cathy.”
Busy with buttons she replied, “Elvera.”
“That’s a pretty name, and I bet nobody else at your school has it. There are three Cathys in my class alone.”
E rolled her eyes. “It’s from Mozart’s Piano Concerto Number 21. It’s called Elvira Madigan, but my dopey mother misspelled it.”
“Dopey mother” apparently called for a change of subject. “Are you staying on the island?” Cathy gestured toward the window, where the sun’s rays seemed focused on the dot of land in the dark waters ahead.
“My mom manages one of Billy Mason’s shops. This will be my third summer up there.”
“Yes. Stuff for the tourists—souvenirs, rain hats, all that. Where are you staying?”
“We have a house.”
Her brows rose. “You own a place on Mackinac?”
“Someone in my family built it a long time ago, but lately no one goes there much.” Elvera shrugged. “Indians? An old fort? Hooray.”
Cathy smiled at mention of the fort. “Where is your house?”
“On the hill, behind the...Great Hotel.”
“Grand Hotel.” Cathy shrugged to show the correction was well meant. “That’s it, that big, long, white building.” She pointed to a spot some distance above and back from the shore, and E squinted to focus her gaze. The place looked like an oversized plantation house, with a Colonial-style porch that ran its whole length. An array of American flags flapped in the breeze at intervals, and a wide, green lawn in front matched the green roof above.
“From what Father said, our place is beyond the hotel and higher up, in the wooded area at the center of the island.”
“I like it up there,” Cathy said. “The trees smell nice and you can’t hear the noise from all the tourists. You’ll like it, I think.”
Elvera examined the girl speculatively. She’d know the area well, even places not meant for tourists. “You should come and visit once we get settled in.”
Cathy’s face lit. “Really?”
“Yes.” Elvera looked again at the Grand Hotel, which grew larger as the boat grumbled its way through the water. “My parents will be glad to see I’ve met someone my age.”
That was a fib. Mother, who constantly nagged E about choosing the “right” kind of friends, would take one look at Cathy and get that pursed lips look that said she wasn’t happy. Father would remind her about the Romney boy, who was sure to show up at some point. But Elvera kind of liked Cathy, whose smile was slightly crooked and who’d obviously jumped to the conclusion that the Tharps were wealthy. It would be nice to have a friend she didn’t feel she had to compete with every single minute of the day, as she did back home in Chicago.
Elvera was surprised to learn that Cathy was on the ferry by herself. “Mom came over earlier to open the shop. I stayed in Mackinaw City to finish eighth grade.”
“You got yourself to school every day?” Mother and the housekeeper regularly joined forces to get Elvera up and dressed in the morning, and she usually let them know she wasn’t happy about it.
“Oh, no. There are lots of people at my house, even with Mom gone,” she said with a grin. “Five females and a baby boy. It’s kind of like living at the circus.”
She didn’t mention a dad, but Mother’s voice sounded in E’s head. Ladies avoid asking questions that might make others uncomfortable.
A blast of the horn warned that the ferry would soon dock. Elvera removed the sweater and returned it to Cathy, who folded it neatly before returning it to her bag. Setting one foot and then the other on the bench seat, she pulled up the dingy cotton socks that sagged around her ankles. “Maybe I’ll see you again soon.” Though her voice didn’t rise at the end, it was a question.
“Yeah.” Her mother’s nagging resurfaced, and E corrected herself. “Yes. Give us a few days to settle in and then come up. It’s called Braddock House, but Father says we’ll probably change the name.”
Cathy chuckled. “Good luck with that. You can make it ‘Elvera’s Mansion’ or the ‘Mickey Mouse Castle,’ but the locals will still call it what they’ve always called it.”
They parted then, Cathy skipping lightly off the boat and turning once to wave before disappearing into the milling crowd at the dock. People pointed at buildings and carriages and consulted directional signs. Elvera waited for her parents to descend the stairs and then joined them as they stepped onto Mackinac Island, Michigan, a Great Lake and a world away from Chicago, Illinois.
It was noisy, as docks tend to be. For a while the passengers huddled in a comforting herd, trying to decide what to do first in this new place. Horse-drawn carriages and drays of several kinds lined the street above them, some battered and others fancy, like the one in Cinderella. “Carriage tours of the island,” one man called, while another bawled, “Haul your luggage to the Grand Hotel.”
Elvera surveyed her new community. Up a steep hill straight ahead was Fort Mackinac, which she already knew about from Father’s endless description. They’d be visiting soon, and she was apparently supposed to be excited that she’d get to see a cannon fired by men in costumes of whatever era it was when they fired cannons. Like loud noises and stinky black powder were a big, hairy deal.
Above the docks was the main street, and to the left was the town’s business section, a few blocks of shops housed in two-and three-story buildings. Their cheerful fronts were mostly white, trimmed in Victorian colors, decorated with gingerbread, and protected on the ground-level by colorful awnings.
Hearing a shout, E turned to see a black-enameled coach pull up on the street with the words “Grand Hotel” on the side. A laughing couple hurried up to it, and a few words were exchanged with the driver, who wore a long red uniform coat. Gallantly, he offered a hand to the girl and helped her board. Her companion handed over their suitcases and then followed, settling in as the driver stowed the cases and took his seat up front. He urged his gray-white horse forward, and its hooves clopped sharply on the roadway, the sound dimming and finally fading away. How nice, she thought, to sit on a velvet seat and look down like royalty at those on foot.
Any dream of riding in a carriage was soon shattered. Choosing a man of about thirty with a single horse and a battered wagon, Father spoke briefly with him and returned to his wife and daughter, obviously pleased. “That fellow will take our belongings up to the house. We’ll walk, so we get to see the island.”
As usual, he’d chosen the cheapest method of doing things. Mother said nothing, though she looked down at her three-inch heels and then enviously at Elvera’s Keds.
They strolled through the congested business section, where a sense of liveliness permeated everything. Hundreds of people shopped, sold, walked, rode, and talked, creating a blur of movement and a babble of noise. “It’s hard to imagine all this energy lasts only three months of the year,” Mother said wonderingly, and Father grunted agreement.
Elvera was silent, taking in the differences between Mackinac Island and any other place she’d ever been. It smelled like horse manure, as she’d predicted, but for some reason she felt optimistic about the summer. While it wasn’t the Riviera, the mood of the island was bright, and she’d already met someone interesting. The experience might be tolerable.
When they’d passed the shopping district, Father consulted a map he’d brought along and turned onto a street leading sharply uphill. The incline was steep enough that Mother, who constantly fought her weight, was soon gasping for air and trying not to limp. By the time they rounded a bend and saw the house fifty yards ahead, Elvera felt sorry for her. They all stopped, Mother to catch her breath and Father and E to get a first impression.
Trees separated Braddock House from its neighbors, making it appear to stand alone. It had a turret on one end that brought to Elvera’s mind lanterns and long-lost sailor lovers. A long porch trimmed with gingerbread held pieces of outdoor furniture. E imagined her mother in a crisp apron, serving iced tea to guests who sat on wicker chairs and admired the view of the lake below. “Pretty,” Mother said, and for once E didn’t disagree.
As they got nearer, however, the favorable impression faded, like the flavor in the Bazooka gum E was not supposed to be chewing. Up close the place was run-down, filthy, and in dire need of repairs. The porch roof had a large hole directly over the door, and leaves and other debris had piled up, almost hiding the steps. The wooden deck wobbled under E’s slight weight, and she imagined one or both parents falling through. Would that be funny or tragic? She never found out, because Father spotted the danger, guiding his wife around the weak spots as he dug an oversized key from his trousers pocket. Inserting it in the lock, he wriggled it a few times until the mechanism responded with a scrape, and then stood back like a doorman, inviting them to precede him inside.
The smell was disgusting. The furniture was centuries old—well, not quite, but maybe from the nineteen thirties. The only toilet, which E needed desperately, had a nasty ring of red at the water line. It worked, but when she flushed it made a noise like the guts of the house were being sucked into the ground.
Mother walked through the downstairs rooms on tiptoe like she expected the ceiling to collapse on her head. Father took on the fake-cheerful voice he used when they weren’t supposed to complain. “I’ve hired a couple to do the heavy work,” he informed them. “The husband will make the necessary repairs to the structure, and the wife will do the cleaning and such.”
“Oh, good,” Mother replied, but Elvera had never heard her sound less pleased. Accustomed as she was to invisible economies in Chicago, Mother obviously didn’t know where to start with a neglected, century-old house on an island in the middle of nowhere.
“I’ll be around until Sunday noon,” Father said, as if that was plenty of time to fix everything. “After that I’ll have to get back to the city before everything falls apart.”
It seemed things were always close to falling apart these days. Once a simple banker, Franklin Tharp had started a new business, a firm that expanded an individual’s credit through use of a card he carried with him. “It’s much like the popular Diners Club card,” E had heard him say a hundred times, “except a man can use in all areas of life, not only in restaurants. He’ll use a credit card when he shops in a clothing store or buys gasoline.” People often frowned at that, but Father would soldier on. “Credit revolves, so a fellow doesn’t have to pay the full bill at the end of every month. It’s being done in California already, and I mean to help financial institutions in Illinois provide the same service to their customers.”
The business hadn’t grown as father had hoped, because, according to Mother, people were uneducated as to the possibilities buying on credit opened to them. To help spread the word, she’d entertained a seemingly endless line of bankers at dinners and parties almost every weekend through the first half of 1965. Seeing her so attentive to the men, so sweet to their wives, E claimed that being in the room was like eating a dozen Bit O’ Honey bars all at once. Mother had replied stiffly that because of her braces, E wasn’t supposed to have one candy bar, much less twelve.
The worst part for E was being forced to meet the guests and smile politely when they praised her for the paper napkins she and Mother had folded into flower-like nut cups and set beside each plate. She hated being told by Mr. Charles or Mr. Barkin (She could never keep them straight) who always laid a heavy hand on her shoulder and said how tall she’d gotten since last time. “I’m supposed to get taller,” she wanted to say. “It’s called growing up.” Of course, that was rude, so she fake-smiled, escaping as soon as possible to her room, where she told her poster of Bobby Darin how much she hated every single thing in her life. “I promised Father I’d be really nice to the bank people if I could stay home this summer,” she’d told Bobby one night after one of her parents’ cocktail parties. Bobby didn’t answer, knowing that proposal had been doomed from the start.
The first night on the island was awful. Elvera was terrified by every noise. They hadn’t yet found her bed sheets, so she had to sleep wrapped in a blanket. She got the urge to pee in the night (too many orange sodas on the road) and had a terrible time finding the bathroom in the unfamiliar place. By morning, her optimism from the day before had evaporated. She was grumpy, and the disrespect she was prone to came out in every response she made to her mother’s forced cheerfulness.
After the family had breakfasted on bananas and Tang, Laura and Darby Wolf showed up at the back door. Darby, a man of about forty with greasy hair and dirty fingernails, did the talking. Within minutes he was thumping through the shed, looking for scrap lumber to use for mending the porch steps. After that he got a ladder and, with Father’s inept assistance, fixed the hole in the porch roof. “Much of what needs to be done is cosmetic,” Father said at lunch. Ignoring the house’s mustiness, dated appliances, and faded furniture, he praised its classic lines and Victorian architecture. “Once it’s cleaned and aired out, we’ll be quite comfortable.”
Who’s we? E wanted to say. You’ll go back to Chicago and leave us in this musty old tomb. She remained silent, and Mother said, “It will be nice, won’t it, Ellie?” Since Father was looking at his plate, E rolled her eyes to let her mother know she was displeased with both the situation and the hated nickname. Mother looked down at her sandwich and said, “Laura seems competent. She made this lunch out of practically nothing.”
Laura didn’t appear to be that much older than Elvera, though her solemn demeanor suggested maturity. She’d bought a few food items in Father’s name at the island’s only grocery store. “You’ll want to get most of your supplies from the mainland,” she advised, “because everything’s expensive here. Make a list, and I’ll bring it when we come on Mondays.”
Mother frowned. “I didn’t realize it would be difficult to get basic, ordinary groceries.”
“Island life’s an adjustment.” Laura’s tone indicated no judgment of that fact. It simply was.
Elvera’s life to that point had been noise and light, and it took a while for her to get used to the silence and the complete darkness that surrounded the house at night. By ten o’clock the woods around them were inky black and seemed threatening. Despite being assured there were no bears or cougars on the island, her imagination conjured them waiting just out of sight. Even in the daytime it was quiet, since their house wasn’t on the way to anywhere. The only people E saw for days were her parents; Laura, who was nice but not chatty; and Darby, who didn’t talk much at all. It was like being in the isolation booth on some quiz show.
Mother was less anxious once the main rooms of the house were opened, aired, and cleaned. She teased that Elvera should never be bored, since there always seemed to be another room full of mouse droppings and spider webs to dispose of. Father ignored any negatives, even when their single toilet overflowed and for the whole day everyone had to use an actual outhouse that sat in the back yard like some prop from The Beverly Hillbillies. “It’s a good thing our ancestors left it there,” he said with a chuckle. “We could have been in big trouble.” Elvera wanted to slug him. As far as she was concerned, being forced to use an outhouse was big trouble.
Worst of all, her parents were adamant that Elvera could not go anywhere by herself. After the promised trip to the fort, which was every bit as boring as anticipated, she was ordered to stay on the property. The town offered excitement, even if it was only watching people go by, and the woods called out for exploration, offering piney smells and shadowy places where one could disappear for a while. If she even hinted she’d like to investigate the area, dire warnings came in two different voices. She might get lost or run into some unsavory character bent on doing things she didn’t completely understand. When she argued there had to be at least as many unsavory characters in Chicago as there were on Mackinac Island, E got her mother’s last-ditch response to complaint: “If you can’t find yourself something useful to do around here, I’ll find you something.”
By the time the girl from the ferry boat showed up, Elvera was desperate for diversion—and for a friend.
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